by John Adams-Graf
Trends in the military hobby are not always difficult to predict: Items that soldiers were eager to find as souvenirs have become the hot collectibles today. For example, German Luger pistols and Japanese “Samurai” swords were probably the most popular souvenir during WWII and today, these remain some of the most sought-after pieces. There are some growth areas in the hobby, however, that may not be as obvious. Here is what to watch in 2012:
Purple Hearts continue to be one of the hot commodities in the military hobby. First instituted by George Washington, the United States revived the “Purple Heart” in 1932 to honor soldiers who sustained injuries in combat. Soldiers who had sustained wounds prior to that date could apply for and receive one of the new medals. This isn’t a new trend, but rather just a continuing hot area. Collectors clamor for Purple Hearts that are attributed to World War I, Spanish-American War or even Civil War veterans.
Purple Hearts with the name of the recipient impressed or engraved on the back command the highest prices. In 2011, Purple Hearts issued to commemorate killed-in-action (KIA) soldiers drastically outpaced wounded-in-action medals. All WWI or earlier Purple Hearts are going up in price. WWII Army Air Force pilot KIA Hearts have jumped significantly as well.
Hearts named to post-WWII veterans haven’t kept paced with the earlier medals. Prices will increase as the supply of attributable WWI and WWII medals disappears.
WWII M-1 Helmets
The pace at which M-1 helmets have risen in the collecting market is enough to spin your lid. The traditional M-1 helmet has come into its own place in the hobby. For years, relegated to the surplus pile, collectors have discovered the M-1… and with a vengeance! Once considered overpriced at $35, a plain M-1 with fixed chinstrap loops and a Hawley pattern liner can push upwards of $350.
Premiums are paid for any helmet painted with a unit insignia. Exercise extreme caution, however. The prices provide incentive to unscrupulous modern-day painters.
Once considered by collectors as plentiful and not worth the space they occupy in a closet, U.S. World War II uniforms have increased in value 10-fold in the last 20 years. The highest prices are paid for uniforms with unit insignia on the left sleeve and additional materials (such as photo albums, paperwork, mess gear, helmet or accouterments) that originally belonged to the soldier. Dog tags that confirm the soldier’s identification really help to confirm top-dollar value. Groupings belonging to soldiers from combat-engaged units or elite formations command the highest prices.
Vietnam vets are in their 60s and 70s. Their kids are hitting their 30s and 40s. These are prime ingredients to creating some serious nostalgia-based collecting.
Relics of the Vietnam War are gaining attention. Most sought-after are uniforms and insignia that were worn and/or created “in country” as opposed to “as issued in the U.S.” However, these non-regulation items are also the easiest to fake, so novice collectors should take great care before buying in this area.
WWII U.S. Paratrooper material
Airborne continues to soar. Uniforms and equipment of any elite formation always command the most interest and highest prices. However, HBO’s "Band of Brothers" mini-series chronicling the history of a company of 101st Airborne troopers catapulted the demand for paratrooper uniforms, helmets, insignia and ephemera that continues to grow. Items with a clear provenance to a specific paratrooper garner the highest prices.
The potential for research plus the genuine silver composition has driven British medals to new heights. Medal collectors clamor for any medal grouping that can be linked to a specific soldier. Medals that have supporting award documents drive medals to their strongest values.
German WWII Daggers and Swords
During the 1930s, Americans who watched newsreels of Germany’s rise to power identified a few key symbols of the German war machine: Their distinctive helmets, jackboots and a preponderance of daggers and swords. After American soldiers landed in Europe, these items became some of the most sought-after trophies. Collectors then, and today, embraced the variety of daggers and swords, quickly identifying rarity and relative value. A resurgence in dagger and swords has occurred as many veterans pass away, leaving their war souvenirs for a new generation to enjoy.
Firearms have always been popular, but perhaps, the uncertainty of today’s economy has caused collectors to take a second look at them as items for investment. Know what you are buying and buy quality.
Civil War Relics
The Civil War market has been very soft for the last few years. Prices have depressed to a range where it is once again affordable to collect Civil War memorabilia. This, coupled with the ongoing excitement generated by the 150th anniversary will restore some of the former vigor to the Civil War market.
Gulf War Material
A surprise to many in the hobby, there has been a lot of attention on collecting uniforms, headgear and insignia related to both of the Gulf Wars. Low prices and availability of a lot of material makes this a potentially strong market.